Arlington, VA

After a months-long hiatus due to the pandemic, Arlington County is preparing to resume jury trials.

“The Arlington Circuit Court is planning to resume jury trials in September 2020,” the court says on its website. “If you received a juror summons for a reporting date after September 1, 2020, please carefully read the front and back of the summons and follow all instructions. Visit the Juror Website or call the Juror Hotline 703-228-0533 to confirm receipt of the summons and to make requests to be deferred or excused.”

The court website says a number of safety measures will be in place, including mandatory mask-wearing for everyone in the courthouse, temperature checks, staggered juror arrival times, social distancing, and readily-available hand sanitizer and wipes.

“Every person who has a case in the Circuit Court is afforded the opportunity of a jury trial pursuant to our Constitution,” the court in a FAQ document. “In resuming jury trials which were delayed due to COVID-19, the Arlington Circuit Court fully understands the need to protect the health and safety of jurors, trial participants, county employees, and the public.”

Those with valid health concerns, COVID-19 risk factors, and known exposures to the virus can request to be excused from jury duty.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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The owner of the Arlington Smoke Shop in Green Valley says charges have been dropped against the alleged burglar shot by a store employee.

Jowan Zuber said this week on a GoFundMe page for the employee, Hamzeh Abushariah, that the “mastermind of the burglary” was “allowed to walk free” by prosecutors — while Abushariah remains under house arrest, facing serious charges in connection to the March 29 shooting.

Two other alleged burglars are still facing charges, after police say they broke into the store at 2428 Shirlington Road early in the morning and attempted to steal items. Abushariah was sleeping in a backroom of the store at the time, but woke up and grabbed the store’s gun. Zuber says the person who was shot is being “protected” by prosecutors.

“I can’t believe they’re protecting the criminal,” he said last night on Tucker Carlson Tonight, his second appearance on top-rated the Fox News opinion show. “I’m sure if the criminal broke into their house they would be doing 10 years in jail right now.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, declined to confirm that charges were dropped against the suspect, who — like the other two — are juveniles.

“Based on the ethical rules which govern lawyers and prosecutors, we are very limited in what we can say about cases — and even more limited in what we can say about juvenile cases,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said Monday, in response to an ARLnow inquiry. “The only question I can answer is that the case of the adult (shooter) is still pending.”

ARLnow previously reported that the third suspect had not been charged and was still “in a medical facility” almost one month after the shooting. Zuber told the Daily Caller that he appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Despite the juvenile’s injuries, Zuber said last night that it was not fair for Abushariah to be facing charges and the alleged organizer of the crime to be free, suggesting without additional evidence that there might be a political motivation.

“This is so sad and so shocking, the justice system is not working in Arlington,” he said. “The prosecutor’s office is very upset that I came on your show and spoke the truth and now they’re looking at the whole thing a different way.”

Following a preliminary hearing on July 30, Abushariah’s case is now heading to Arlington Circuit Court. Zuber wants police to release the full surveillance video of the shooting, which he claims shows the now-free suspect “lunging” at Abushariah before the shooting. Prosecutors say the boy was shot “point blank” in the back.

“I hope that Arlington County will share the video exactly,” Zuber said.

Zuber noted that Abushariah is under house arrest and cannot work or take his kids to the park, but still has to pay more than $1,000 per month in child support and fees for his court-mandated GPS monitor. The GoFundMe for Abushariah has raised more than $10,000 since last night’s “Tucker” show, and now stands at $13,349 of a $100,000 goal.

Zuber said the handling of the burglary case sends a bad message to young people.

“Hey you can go rob and steal and the prosecutor will stand next to you and defend you,” he said. “This is sad for justice, this is injustice.”

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Morning Notes

Schwartz Presents New Capital Plan — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The County Manager, rather than proposing the traditional 10-year plan, is presenting a short-term proposal until the County better understands the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of the one-year CIP is on projects that are already underway, those that improve failing or end-of-life infrastructure, and those required by legal or regulatory obligations.” [Arlington County]

Juvenile Court Reeling from Coronavirus Cases — “An outbreak of covid-19 in the clerk’s office of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has forced the court to close the office to the public and has concerned lawyers who practice there daily. Four of the seven clerks in the office have tested positive for covid-19.” [Washington Post]

Small Business Grants Announced — “Arlington County today announced 394 businesses are receiving the Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term). The GRANT program provides financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT funds were designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses and nonprofits, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with federal relief initiatives.” [Arlington County, Arlington Economic Development]

Va. Not Ready for Phase 3 — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that statewide Covid-19 numbers ‘continue to look favorable,’ but that he will not move the commonwealth into phase 3 of reopening this week. ‘I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of our country,’ Northam said.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]

Wardian to Run to Every District Taco — “This is Mike Wardian, a Guinness-World-Record winning runner, who is partnering with DT on Saturday, June 20 as he runs to ALL 12 DMV LOCATIONS (just about 60 miles)! If you see Mike on his run, snap a pic and use #whereswardian for in-app credit for a free taco!” [Twitter]

County Offers Free Trees and Tree Maintenance — “Arlington County loves trees, and knows trees are critical for our stormwater infrastructure, environmental and human health benefits, and through its Tree Canopy Fund EcoAction Arlington offers grants to plant or maintain trees on private property.” [Press Release]

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Morning Notes

Arlington Waiving Affordable Housing Loan Payments — “The Board approved allowing borrowers of County Multifamily Revolving Loan Funds the option of waiving their 2020 loan payments if they commit to using the money to address rent and vacancy losses and emergency needs that are associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Arlington County]

County Delaying Purchase of Property Near Shirlington — “In order to keep their options open, the Arlington County Board will make another $175,000 payment to hold open the possibility of acquiring two parcels adjacent to the Arlington Cultural Affairs facility in the Four Mile Run corridor.” [InsideNova]

Masks Required at County Courthouse — “Beginning May 22, 2020, cloth facial coverings will be available for all people who do not have one as they enter the Arlington County Courthouse, Sheriff Beth Arthur announced. This comes after the Honorable Judge Newman, Arlington County Chief Judge, ordered that all patrons who enter the Courthouse will be required to wear a cloth face covering or face mask.” [Arlington County]

Chamber Supports Extra Outdoor Dining Space — “Allowing restaurants to use parking lots and street parking spaces for additional outdoor capacity, similar to how they have been allowed to reserve parking space for carryout patrons, will provide additional flexibility for socially distanced service. We also encourage the County to consider block closures where restaurants may set up tables on a pedestrianized right of way to expand overall capacity.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Pair in Stolen SUV Crash into Parked Cars — “The victim’s Ford F-150 was parked when he observed the unknown suspect enter it and and drive away. An officer en route to the call for service observed the F-150 and a Toyota Land Cruiser in the area travelling at high rates of speed. The officer attempted to effect a traffic stop on the F-150, however, it the driver refused to stop and fled onto I-395 NB. The Land Cruiser, which had previously been reported stolen out of Arlington, was later located, unoccupied, after it crashed into multiple parked vehicles.” [Arlington County]

Fund Established for Gutshall’s Kids — “A memorial fund to support the education of the late County Board member Erik Gutshall’s children has been established… The fund was established by a ‘generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous.'” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Fairfax Parks Reopening — “The Park Authority has begun reopening of parking lots and parks in the park system to be open for the Memorial Day weekend. Park Authority staff will begin the process of clearing barricades and opening parking lots at all 427 parks for our community on Wednesday, May 20 through Friday, May 22. These parks will reopen for limited use in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.” [Fairfax County]

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At least six inmates in the Arlington County jail have been released ahead of schedule, following the announcement that a sheriff’s deputy tested positive for coronavirus.

The releases came after the public defender’s office filed motions with Arlington Circuit Court to reconsider the sentences of around 20 inmates, a day after the April 23 announcement. Public Defender Brad Haywood says he also petitioned Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for clemency for 63 local inmates, though that request is still pending.

“We have spoken with the administration and they appear to be taking the request seriously,” Haywood said of the petition. “We are providing more detailed information to them at their request. No movement yet, but we remain optimistic.”

Jails and prisons across the U.S. have been especially vulnerable to spread of the virus, with around 5,000 infections and more than 100 deaths attributable to correctional facilities, according to the CDC.

Coronavirus “spreads easily and aggressively from person to person,” Haywood noted in an April 24 letter to the circuit court. “While there are no reported cases of COVID-19 among the Arlington County Detention Facility’s incarcerated population, because of and as evidenced by the Arlington Deputy Sheriff’s positive test, infiltration is inevitable.

“The risk to inmates is going to persist regardless of how effectively the pandemic is dealt with in the community,” he added. “This is a problem that cannot be avoided, and it is quite literally a matter of life and death.”

Haywood has been assisted in his efforts by Arlington’s top prosecutor, who took office at the beginning of the year after running on a criminal justice reform platform, and the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail. All three have been working to reduce the inmate population during the pandemic.

“Pretty early on, the public defender and I, and the Sheriff and I, got together and realized that what we really needed to do was thin out the jail population, both for the safety of the people who were incarcerated and also for the safety of the Sheriff’s deputies,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, during an online town hall about a week ago.

“We started going through the lists to ask the question, for each person do they really need to be there? So we were pulling files and proactively calling defense attorneys and suggesting they file motions for reconsideration,” she continued. “The public defender was doing this at exactly the same time. We’re lucky that we have a good relationship and so we were talking about the cases and collaborating.”

Despite concerns for the incarcerated, Tafti said it’s not realistic to empty the jails completely.

“Obviously we can’t let everybody out, but trying to get as many folks, and to be as surgical as possible — to ask the question: is this person really going to flee or is this person really going to reoffend?” said Tafti.

There has been a 25-30% reduction in prison population “over the past few months,” according to Tafti. Judges, meanwhile, haven’t always been as receptive to the idea of releasing inmates as the prosecutor’s office. The Washington Post reported in March that at least one Arlington judge was pushing back against recommendations to release certain inmates.

Arlington County police are contributing to the thinning of the jail population, Tafti said, in part by being more selective about who is held in jail and who is released pending trial.

“[Police] are actually issuing summonses more than arresting people, so they’ve tried to pull back that way,” she said. “In the initial bond hearings we’re still trying to be as surgical and careful as possible, and make sure as many people [get bail] as possible.”

Tafti said her office no longer asks for cash bail, but depending on circumstances still has to ask for some detainees to be held. It’s a tough decision, though, given the health risks in jail.

“It’s important that we don’t put them in a position where they’re likely to get sicker when they haven’t been convicted of a crime yet,” she said.

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(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Arlington residents will select a new County Board member on July 7, following the resignation of the late Erik Gutshall.

Gutshall resigned from the Board just 10 days before passing away from brain cancer on Thursday, April 16.

Earlier this afternoon, Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William T. Newman, Jr. set Tuesday, July 7 as the special election date for Gutshall’s successor, who serve out the rest of his term through the end of 2021.

State law “provides that the special election shall be held not less than sixty days and not more than eighty days after the occurrence of the vacancy,” Newman noted in his decision. It cannot be held “within the fifty-five days prior to a general or primary election.” The statewide Virginia non-presidential primary this year is scheduled for June 23.

Late Friday afternoon, in an emergency meeting, Arlington’s Electoral Board set a candidate filing deadline of Friday, May 8.

Following the selection of the filing deadline, the Arlington County Democratic Committee announced that it would be holding a closed caucus among its Steering Committee and County Committee members, unless Gov. Ralph Northam and the state legislature act to push the special election date back.

More from an email sent by the local party to members:

Arlington Democrats believe a vote-by-mail nomination caucus open to all Democratic registered voters in Arlington would best serve the interests of democracy and Arlington voters in this unprecedented time of public health crisis. But, in order to meet the aggressive timeline set by the laws of Virginia, it is impossible to facilitate a vote-by-mail nomination process. This leaves the Arlington Democrats with no option but to select the Democratic nominee through a closed virtual caucus, which involves a vote by the members of its Steering Committee and County Committee that will conclude by May 7.

Arlington Democrats is prepared to transform this virtual nomination process — which is detailed in the Arlington Democrats’ new special election webpage — into a vote-by-mail process open to all Democratic registered voters in Arlington if the nomination period is extended to encompass a two-month period. Arlington Democrats is actively exploring options to achieve this extension, including through consultation with multiple legal counsel.

Arlington Democrats also is asking Governor Northam and the General Assembly to move the special election date so that political parties have the ability to hold an open nomination process, while respecting necessary social distancing measures. Please help us to fight for the voting rights of Arlington voters by signing this petition — act today!

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Morning Notes

List of County Gov’t Changes — “With cases in the region, including Arlington, we are taking critical steps to slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), as the health and safety of our employees and our community is our top priority. While we will be making changes to some programs and services, we will continue to operate essential government services for our residents and businesses.” [Arlington County]

Visits Cancelled at County Jail — “All Professional Visits will be non-contact for a minimum of 30 days. All Personal Visits will be cancelled for a minimum of 30 days. All programs will be cancelled for a minimum of 30 days.” [Arlington County]

Jury Trials Postponed — “As of March 15, the Circuit Court has postponed all jury trials & released witnesses from subpoenas through March 31. Other hearings & sentencing dockets are also postponed. See attached. Arraignments & bond motions will still be heard.” [Twitter]

Metro Reduces Service — “As of 2 p.m., Friday, March 13, Metro has further escalated its response to Phase 3 of its Pandemic Flu Plan. Phase 3 is the highest level of response and will include all subsequent mitigation steps required during the public health emergency… Monday-Friday: Trains will operate every 12 minutes on each line throughout the day. The rail system will maintain normal hours, opening at 5 a.m.” [WMATA]

Visitor Restrictions at Va. Hospital Center — “Effective March 12, we have implemented new visitation restrictions to protect the health and safety of our patients and staff from the spread of COVID-19.” [Instagram]

Restaurant Delivering Free Meals — “Between the empty grocery store shelves, scary headlines, and mass closures, it’s hard not to feel like the world is ending. Which is why Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher wanted to do something to make people’s lives a little easier. So yesterday, he posted a message on Twitter: If anyone over the age of 70 needed a meal, his restaurant would make sure they got one.” [Washingtonian]

Few Crowds at Pentagon City Mall — The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall was “almost dead” at noon on Saturday as most shoppers sayed away. Meanwhile, a reader took a video of people in full body suits in the Victoria’s Secret store; it’s unclear whether they were cleaning the store or otherwise. [Twitter, Twitter]

Crash on N. Glebe Road Saturday — A crash at N. Glebe Road and Pershing Drive sent a car careening into a lamp post, over a sidewalk and smashing into the parking lot of the Buckingham Center strip mall on Saturday. [Twitter]

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The number of coronavirus cases in Arlington has reached five, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

The VDH website now lists 5 cases in Arlington, 6 in Fairfax County, and 1 in Alexandria. In total, there are 30 cases throughout the state and 10 hospitalizations.

The new figures represent a 150% rise in cases in one day. On Thursday, Arlington announced the second coronavirus case in the county.

Separately Friday afternoon, Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti announced her intention to push all criminal cases in which the defendant is not being held in jail back to at least April 10. It’s unclear whether that will affect those who are being called to jury duty.

Also Friday afternoon, following the announcement that Arlington Public Schools would be closing through mid-April, Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation announced that all activities and programs were being canceled through April 20.

The full announcement from DPR is below, after the jump.

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(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) The county could soon spend up to $5.5 million to replace the Arlington County Justice Center’s old heating system, which is now in need of “constant repairs,” per officials.

The Arlington County Board is poised to vote on the replacement during its meeting this Saturday, October 19. The 13-story Courthouse complex at 1425 and 1435 N. Courthouse Road includes local courts, Arlington County Police Department headquarters, the Arlington County jail, and the the Sheriff’s Office.

“The primary intent of this contract is to replace a total of (6) six boilers and (4) four domestic hot water tanks that have reached the end of their useful lives and are in constant repairs,” staff wrote in a report to the Board.

Since 2016, the county has spent $300,000 on trying to fix the six boilers, according to Peter Golkin, head spokesman of the Department of Environmental Services.

Crews are also expected to fix the Building Automation System which “controls at the Justice Center with energy efficient equipment and for redundancy” as well as a dishwasher in the kitchen of the Arlington County Detention Facility, per the report.

The Board will vote on awarding the $5 million HVAC contract to Pittsburgh-based construction and services company Limbach Holdings, Inc. The company offered to do the work for about $1 million less the next closest contract bidder, Rockville-based mechanical contracting firm Shapiro & Duncan, Inc.

The Limbach contract up for Board review to includes $4,784,880 in base pay for the contractor, plus a change order contingency allocation of $717,732.

The staff report states that the repair work “will not impact the functionality of the building for staff or public.”

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Morning Notes

Shooting Suspect Arraigned — “The man charged with shooting a woman he knew in her Crystal City, Virginia, office on Aug. 28 has had his first court appearance in Arlington County District Court. Mumeet Muhammad was arraigned on three felony counts: aggravated malicious wounding; use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, 2nd offense; and being a violent felon in possession of a weapon.” [WTOP]

Coastal Flooding Discussion — “The Northern Virginia Coastal Storm Risk Management Study will focus on sites in Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, northern Prince William County, and at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority’s Reagan National Airport–as part of an effort to reduce coastal flood risk to people, properties, and infrastructure.” [MWCOG]

ACPD Wins State Award — “The Arlington County Police Department received top honors in the Municipal 5: 301-600 Officers Category in the 2019 Virginia Law Enforcement Challenge Awards.” [Arlington County]

Arlington’s Lonely Turkey Vulture — “Hallmark doesn’t have a card for it – yet – but the first Saturday of September nonetheless is celebrated as International Vulture Awareness Day. And in Arlington, that means a visit to Long Branch Nature Center and Tippy the resident turkey vulture.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Falls Church Sheriff Vehicle Burns — “At approximately 6 a.m., City of Falls Church Police and the Arlington Fire Department responded to a call for a vehicle fire at City Hall… The vehicle was a marked Sheriff’s cruiser and was totaled in the blaze. An officer near the scene stopped a suspicious person for questioning, and subsequently arrested him.” [City of Falls Church]

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An Arlington man previously convicted of a pair of bank robberies in Alexandria is facing more jail time.

Budder Khan, now 29, pleaded guilty today to robbing two pawn shops in Falls Church, federal prosecutors announced. Khan could face decades in prison for the pawn shop robberies, which took place in 2014 and 2015.

Khan was dubbed the “Ball Cap Bandit” due to the hats he wore during a series of local bank robberies in 2016.

More from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

An Arlington man pleaded guilty today to robbing two Falls Church pawn shops of nearly $800,000 in jewelry and watches.

According to court documents, in July 2014, Budder Khan, 29, entered Route 50 Gold and Jewelry Exchange, forced the store’s employees to the ground using what appeared to be a real firearm, smashed the business’s glass display cases and took jewelry and watches worth over $650,000. Later, in April 2015, Khan entered Top Pawn, again used what appeared to be a real firearm to frighten the store’s employees, smashed the business’s glass display cases and stole jewelry and watches worth over $143,000.

Khan pleaded guilty to two counts of interference with commerce by robbery and faces a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison when sentenced on December 6. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

This investigation was conducted by the FBI WFO’s Violent Crime Safe Streets Task Force which is composed of Special Agents of the FBI, along with Detectives from the Fairfax County Police, the Prince William County Police, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, the Arlington County Police, the Alexandria City Police, the Leesburg Police, Vienna Police Department, Herndon Police Department, Fairfax City Police, Falls Church Police Department, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and in partnership with the ATF, USMS, HSI, and other federal agencies. This task force focuses on investigating the most egregious and violent criminal enterprises and actors operating in the Capital Region.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, and Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Fairfax County Chief of Police, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander E. Blanchard is prosecuting the case.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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